To some people, the smell of freshly cut grass signals that spring has finally arrived and summer is on its way. This year, thanks to polar vortexes and “snowmageddons” for much of the country, spring is arriving a bit late.
For tire dealers that sell rubber for lawnmowers and other small outdoor power equipment (OPE), the weird winter weather means customers are just starting to come in the door. “This arena is really similar to other segments in the tire business … weather really controls a lot of our spending, lifestyle and time,” says Carl Casalbore, president of BKT Tires USA.
“Weather puts everyone on delay. Or on the contrary, it speeds everything up. If springtime comes in Feb. 15, everybody will be getting their car serviced, will be upgrading their garden tools and so on and on,” he notes.
Casalbore says the first quarter in this segment might have been a little flat, but business will start picking up as the spring weather has finally arrived.
Carl Miller, vice president of sales and marketing at Monitor Manufacturing a division of Kenda USA, agrees that weather is delaying the start of the season. But, he also points to the state of the economy as still being a challenge.
“Households just don’t have as much disposable income to spend on buying new equipment or paying to have landscape or yard work done,” he says.
Many equipment sellers – especially the big boxers like Lowes – aren’t seeing the spring rush to new lawn tractors and zero-radius mowers.
Because of this, Miller believes that with this sector in 2014, the commercial side will grow while the consumer side will remain flat.
Differing slightly, Brian Preheim, OPE product marketing manager for Carlisle Transportation Products, says the landscaping market is trending upward and economy is getting better. “The economy and housing are significant drivers in the outdoor power equipment market and they continue to improve,” he says.
He also notes that despite the delayed spring the extra moisture from the winter helps plant growth, which is positive for the industry.
Serving the Customer
No surprise that to be successful in the landscape tire arena, tire dealers need to understand their customer’s needs and have the necessary inventory on hand. But that’s somewhat harder than it sounds.
Preheim advises dealers educate themselves on the primary sizes and equipment used in the area and commit themselves to stocking what’s needed.
“Many sizes are used in both the residential and the commercial segments. I would suggest discussing specific needs with customers and potential customers and responding to that,” he says.
He also suggests visiting equipment dealers and other retail outlets to compile a size and tread pattern list.
Carrying five to six standard tire sizes will fit most lawn tractors and meet most OE replacement needs (see sidebar), Kenda’s Miller notes.
Because downtime is a killer to commercial landscape clients, BKT’s Casalbore says in order to best make the sale and serve customer, having tires in stock is important. “The one thing I know about this category is if you have it, you sell it. If you don’t, you’re going to miss the sale.”
“The people that carry most of the products and are dedicated to that segment are successful,” he says.
The dealer’s sales model will decide what they should keep in stock, Casalbore notes. Dealers could just carry the faster moving SKUs that many dealers have, or carry some of the slower moving SKUs and keep those in their inventory longer.
“Slower moving items might turn one, two, three times a year but your profitability could be double if not triple the high-moving SKUs,” he says.
Dealers should also consider who their customers are. Commercial customers have different needs than the “average Joe” consumer.
“Whether a consumer model or commercial, everyone expects their tires to hold air and provide ample traction for the job,” Kenda’s Miller says.
Miller notes the average consumer rides his or her mower one to two hours a week, so the tire holding air is their only concern. He says commercial customers have higher expectations.
“The commercial side is really concerned with tire durability, puncture resistance, traction and ride characteristics. These all come in to play,” Miller notes.
Carlisle’s Prehiem agrees, “Commercial users are focused on the tire’s performance and availability. Endurance and a tread pattern that provides good traction without damaging the turf are high priorities for that segment. While consumers also care about tire performance, their frequency of use is much less.”
BKT’s Casalbore notes that a brand has little equity within the OPE segment.
“Your 15 horsepower garden tractor, I don’t think people care too much what they put on it. Maybe the commercial people do, the landscapers, but the brand is not as important as it is in other segments,” he says. “The brand is there, but really you’re selling a size with a price.”
Differing from the everyday user, commercial users in the landscape tire market are concerned with value and downtime, Casalbore notes.
“Value doesn’t mean low price or high price,” he says. “It means the best price for the best quality product. You don’t need someone cutting lawn and halfway through the week, the tire goes flat and you can’t supply your customer with a spare. All of a sudden, they’ll get behind of the schedule because the equipment that they’re using isn’t available.”
Low Tech Tires
Since the OPE tire segment isn’t as big as other segments within the tire industry (such as passenger and light truck), technology advancement may come slower in this arena. Currently, bias tires are still the most practical and economical throughout the landscape tire segment.
Casalbore points out that advancements made to tires in motorsports eventually make their way down to the passenger segment. He believes that in this segment, BKT’s involvement in the Monster Jam series will make its way through the ag and OTR segments and down into the turf tire segment.
“Everything starts at the top and trickles down to the bottom,” he says. “What’s happening is once the technology implemented in these tires has been established and proven, it makes it way into other segments and then ultimately it saves everyone money.” While some of the technology seems “older,” there are new trends within the landscape tire market.
Miller notes that some companies are starting to offer low profile tires, which are more about looks than performance.
He also says semi-pneumatic tires are becoming more common on mower decks for flat proofing.
Kenda is offering a new line of tires, primarily for the commercial ZTR market. The new K513 tire has great traction on wet or dry surfaces and holds well on side hill or sloped areas, Miller says. This line has a scuff bar to help with sidewall protection and rubber compounds that make the tire more durable, he notes.
Carlisle recently launched its Turf Smart tire designed for the professional segment. The tire features a groove ejection system built into the tread pattern that helps clear the tread grooves yielding better traction, Preheim says. Additionally, the profile has been optimized to improve ground pressure.
So while spring may have been delayed, tire dealers can now start capitalizing on the landscape tire market.